From Greater Malaysia
1948, the aftermath of World War 2. As Malaya frees itself from the clutches of Emperor Hirohito, an old colonial power returns to restore order and governance.
However for some, anarchy begets anarchy. Forces funded by the Queen to fight against the Japanese ignored orders to disband and turned their rifles to British soldiers instead. These groups became the groundwork into what became the Communist insurgency.
In response to the escalating threat from Malaya’s own Marxists, the British declared an “emergency” that gave them huge discretionary powers. They adopted a zero tolerance policy against communist sympathisers. This, coupled with the lack of sensitivity training on the local populace makes for a volatile situation.
As Raymond Burdett of the Suffolk Regiment puts it:
The trainers sought to get us to follow instructions, not to question commands.
Basic training for these troops focused on infantry skills, not their ability to judge the appropriateness of orders in the context of international law.
That fire was ignited in the December of 1948 when 7th Platoon, G Company, 2nd Scots Guards rounded up civilians for interrogation at Batang Kali, Selangor.
The process did not end well and led to the massacre of 24 civilians. Not content to stop there, their houses were burnt to the ground, leaving their relatives destitute and lost all source of income.
The official story was that the victims escaped from custody, prompting the soldiers to shoot the supposedly fleeing men. There was no mention of the battalion going rogue.
The case was however recently reopened and Britain’s highest court will be hearing the case on April 22nd.
In memory of the victims and in honour of the new inquiry, here are a few facts on the upcoming judicial review challenge for the Batang Kali massacre and its impacts.
1. The Eyewitnesses & Their Accounts
The slaughter did not eliminate all eyewitnesses. The spouses and relatives of those murdered managed to escape the onslaught only to see their dead relatives. The only adult eyewitness was a man named Chong Hong, who was in his 20s during the massacre.
One notable eyewitness was Lim Ah Yin, who was 11 when her father was murdered. According to The Guardian, she will be heard in the British Supreme Court for a judicial review challenge.
In a Guardian Interview, she was quoted describing the atrocity:
A soldier pointed at my father. They checked the rice and pushed him into a hut.
Then one of the soldiers pulled my mother’s arms. She was eight months pregnant. I and my sister tried to stop them taking her away but she was pushed down to the river.
We heard gun shots and thought my mother had been killed.
A week after the incident, Lim returned to her village with her mother. The sight she saw was not a positive homecoming.
The bodies were covered in flies. They were bloated and swollen, lying in groups of three or four.
Finally I found my father. He had been shot in the chest. That day, December 12th, had been my birthday.
2. The Aborted Investigations
Prior to this judicial review, there were 2 aborted investigations. The first investigation was made by Scotland Yard in the 1960s.
In a Central Officer’s Special Report from the Criminal Investigation Department, New Scotland Yard dated 30th of July 1970, it was stated that the case was closed at the order of the Director of Public Prosecution.
The report claimed that the investigations were “politically motivated.” This was sensitive as the Conservatives just formed the government and enforced their political stance. The expose made by the “The People” newspaper that obtained testimonies from soldiers was dubbed a “publicity stunt”.
At one point, the Liberal Party president claimed that Bob Edwards, the then-editor of The People should be charged with criminal libel for his actions.
In 1993, the BBC produced an expose on the murders in their documentary series, In Cold Blood.
The shocking video ignited political will to open up investigations on the case. This led to the 2nd investigation led by the Royal Malaysian Police. The investigation, like the former was also aborted.
In the case of Keyu & Others v Secretary of State For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs & ANR, there was an internal memorandum that claims that there is no specific need to provide rapid assistance to the Royal Malaysian Police.
The investigation required information from the Chief Pathologist that has examined the bodies and the names of the Scots Guard involved. However, all information was delayed.
In fact, it took a full year for the names of the Scot Guards to reach the Malaysian Police.
3. Admission To Murder
When American journalist Seymour Hersh covered the Vietnamese My Lai massacre, the debate on soldiers committing atrocities went beyond the Atlantic Ocean. Inspired by the expose, former serviceman William Cootes confessed to being part of the Batang Kali massacre.
Contrary to the official version of the story, he explained that his platoon commander, George Ramsay briefed his men to wipe out anybody in the area. This meant that the men shot were not running away from custody but victims of a war crime.
His confession became a domino effect and led the rest to admit their part in the killings. Below is an extraction from the same Metro Police report used prior..
However, doubts were raised on their confession. The police claimed that the confessions were made with questionable conduct.
4. Forensic Evidence Was Still Obtainable
A common trope that has been played out as the story unfolds is that evidence has not been sufficient.
In the first Scotland Yard investigation, the then-Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson claimed that there was a low probability of obtaining sufficient evidence. It was concluded that the investigation needs to be terminated.
In response to the an inquiry made by the ” Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre” to the Foreign Secretary in December 2008, the high commissioner responded:
In view of the findings of the two previous investigations that there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecutions in this case, and in the absence of new evidence, regrettably we see no reason to re-open or start a fresh investigation.
However, Prof Sue Black, a forensic adviser informed The Guardian that evidence was still obtainable. According to her experience in Kosovo and Rwanda, evidence is still obtainable from the victim’s bodies.
Obtaining such evidence would refute the High Commissioner’s reply.
5. Impact to the Northern Irish Conflict
Lawyers for the families of the victims argued that Britain has a duty to commission an independent inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the convention came only into effect in 1998.
Because this applies a convention retrospectively, this would affect other situations that the British has been involved in the past. This is especially of concern for family members that still seek for reparations.
One issue that has been brought up are the allegations thrown to the Brits during the Northern Irish conflict, also known as the troubles.
In an interview with the Guardian, Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch UK was quoted saying:
The outcome of this case will have considerable implications in Northern Ireland, where many of the deaths that occurred during the Troubles happened before the enactment of the Human Rights Act in 1998.
Despite how heart-wrenching the situation is, there is no way that the victims can have their situations restored. Reparations can only repair the physical, but not the psychological.
John Halford, a solicitor at the law firm Bindmans puts it best.
The bullets that killed half the inhabitants of Batang Kali can never return to their barrels and the time has long since passed when any soldiers who fired them might be prosecuted.
The least that the British government could do, is to at least acknowledge the war crimes a rogue squad did under their flag.
The lesson of this issue however does not stop in the British Isles. Malaysians tend to remember the “Malayan Emergency” as a period of heroism where a democratic country was able to ward off the fascist tendencies of the Malayan Communist Party.
While Greater Malaysia isn’t condoning the violent terrorist acts of Chin Peng’s foot soldiers, we have to acknowledge that our people once were in line with British soldiers that facilitated this slaughter.
The adaptation of a zero tolerance policy against communism led to the aggressive tendencies demonstrated here. In a desperation for victory on what was a faceless guerrilla force, these soldiers went to the extreme to proof there is an enemy out there.
This serves as a warning when dealing with another person of a different political ideology as ours. At what point can we find out that a person is willing to kill the innocent to protect an ideology?
Share us your thoughts on the issue.